Ystoria Mongalorum is a report, compiled by Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, of his trip to the Mongol Empire. Written in the 1240s, it is the oldest European account of the Mongols. Carpine was the first European to try to chronicle Mongol history.
Carpine recorded the information he collected in a work, variously entitled in the manuscripts, Ystoria Mongalorum quos nos Tartaros appellamus ("History of the Mongols, which we call Tartars"), and Liber Tartarorum, or Liber Tatarorum ("Book of the Tartars [or Tatars]"). This treatise has nine chapters. The first eight describe the Tartar's country, climate, manners, religion, character, history, policy, and tactics, and on the best way to oppose them. The ninth chapter describes regions he passed through.
The title is significant, as it emphasizes that the Mongols were not identical to the Tatars. In fact, the author points out that Mongols were quite offended by such a label: they vanquished Tatars in several campaigns around 1206, after which the Tartars ceased to exist as an independent ethnic group.
The report gives a narrative of his journey, what he had learned about Mongol history, as well as Mongol customs of the time. Many scholars have speculated that Carpine was undoubtedly on a spy mission because the largest portion of the report consists of detailed descriptions of how well prepared the Mongols were for war and suggestions of how the various military leaders might resist them.
Carpine, as the first European at the time to have visited Mongolia and returned to talk about it, became somewhat of a celebrity upon returning to Europe. He gave what would be called today a lecture tour across the continent.
Two redactions of the Ystoria Mongalorum are known to exist: Carpine's own and another. An abridgement of the First Redaction can be found in the Turin National Library. The "Tartar Relation" is an expanded version of the Second Redaction.
The standard scholarly edition of Ystoria is by Anastasius Wyngaert, in Sinica Franciscana, vol. 1 (Quaracchi, 1929), pp. 3-130..
Like some other famous medieval itineraries, it shows an absence of a traveler's or author's egotism, and contains, even in the last chapter, scarcely any personal narrative. Joannes was not only an old man when he went on this mission, but was, according to accidental evidence in the annals of his order, a fat and heavy man (vir gravis et corpulentus), insomuch that, contrary to Franciscan precedent, he rode a donkey between his preachings in Germany. In his narrative, however, he never complains.
His book, as to personal and geographical detail, is inferior to one a few years later by a younger brother of the same order, William of Rubruck or Rubruquis—who was Louis IX's most noteworthy envoy to the Mongols. In spite of these defects—and the credulity he shows in the Oriental tales, which is sometimes childishly absurd—Friar Joannes' Ystoria is, in many ways, the chief literary memorial of European overland expansion before Marco Polo. Among his innovative recommendations was development of light cavalry to combat Mongol tactics.
It first revealed the Mongol world to Catholic Christendom. The account of Tatar manners, customs and history is perhaps the best treatment of the subject by any Christian writer of the Middle Ages. He provided four lists: of nations conquered by the Mongols, nations that had (as of 1245-1247) successfully resisted, the Mongol princes, and witnesses to his narrative, including various Kiev merchants. All these catalogues, unrivaled in Western medieval literature, are of great historical value.
The Prologue identifies the main audience of John of Plano Carpini's account as "all the faithful of Christ." The Prologue explains that John of Plano Carpini has been sent to the land of the Tartars by the Pope so "if by chance they [the Tartars] made a sudden attack they would not find the Christian people unprepared." John traveled "during a year and four months and more" with Friar Benedict the Pole "who was our [John's crew] companion in our tribulations and our interpreter."
A manuscript of a variant of the Ystoria, written by Minorite friar C. de Bridia, perhaps based on Joannes's lectures, appeared on the art market in the 1950s and was purchased for Yale University. This Tartar Relation describes Joannes's journey, including details that did not make it into his own written account. The manuscript is perhaps most known because it was bound with a manuscript of Vincent of Beauvais' popular encyclopedia Speculum historiale and a spurious map on vellum, the notorious "Vinland map"- no such map is included with a second, older Hystoria/Speculum manuscript volume found more recently. Another theory of the origin of Historia Tartarorum proposes that it was a record made by a Polish friar (de Bridia meaning "of Brzeg") from an oral account by Joannes' companion Benedykt Polak during final stages of the journey; C. de Bridia was ordered to put Benedykt's account into writing by Fr Bogus?aw, the head of Franciscan order in Poland and Bohemia.